YANGON, Burma – A series of airstrikes by the Burmese military along the country’s border raised fears on Monday that more villagers could flee in large numbers to neighboring Thailand, adding a new dimension to an already volatile crisis.
The strikes in areas populated mainly by members of the Karen ethnic group represent another escalation in the Burmese junta’s increasingly violent crackdown following protests from its February 1 coup. More than 100 people were killed in and around protests across the country on Saturday – the bloodiest day since the takeover.
Burmese planes carried out three strikes on Sunday night, according to Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian relief agency that provides medical and other assistance to villagers. The strikes seriously injured a child but caused no apparent deaths, he said. The weekend strikes sent around 2,500 people to Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand, the agency said.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on Monday acknowledged the problems along his country’s western border and said his government was preparing for a possible influx of people.
“We do not want massive migration on our territory, but we will also take into account human rights,” said Prayut.
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Asked about people who have already fled to Thailand, Prayut said, “We have prepared places, but we don’t want to talk about the preparation of the refugee centers just yet. We won’t go that far.”
Video filmed on Sunday showed a group of villagers, many of them young children, resting in a clearing in Burma after fleeing their homes. They carried their goods in packages and baskets. In addition to those who fled to Thailand, around 10,000 people are believed to be internally displaced in Karen state in northern Burma, according to the Free Burma Rangers.
The bombings may have been in retaliation for an attack reported by the Karen National Liberation Army in which they claimed to have captured a Burmese government military outpost on Saturday morning. The group is fighting for greater autonomy for the Karen people.
According to Thoolei News, an online site that contains official information from the National Karen Union, eight government soldiers were captured and 10 were killed. The report says that a Karen guerrilla is dead.
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Ahead of the overnight bombardments, Burmese military planes attacked a Karen guerrilla position in Mutraw district in Karen state on Sunday, aid workers said. Two guerrillas were killed and many more were injured in these attacks.
On Saturday evening, two Burmese military planes twice bombed a village in the same district, killing at least two villagers.
The government has fought the Karen fighters every now and then for years – as it has with other ethnic minorities seeking more autonomy – but the airstrikes are a worrying development at a time when the junta is cracking down also violently the anti-coup demonstrations in the cities of the country. .
The coup, which toppled the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, reversed years of progress towards democracy after five decades of military rule. At least 459 people have been killed since the takeover on Sunday, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners. The real toll is believed to be higher.
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On Saturday alone, at least 114 people across the country were killed by security forces, including several children – a death toll that prompted a UN human rights expert to accuse the junta of committing a “mass murder” and criticizing the international community for not doing enough to stop it.
US President Joe Biden told reporters his administration was working on a response but gave no details. The United States has already imposed new sanctions on the junta, like other countries – but they have had little effect so far.
“It is terrible. It is absolutely outrageous. From the information I have received, a huge number of people have been killed. Completely unnecessary,” Biden said.
The UN Security Council is likely to hold closed-door consultations on the escalating situation in Burma, diplomats said on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to disclose information before an official announcement. The council condemned the violence and called for the restoration of democracy, but has not yet considered possible sanctions against the military, which would require the support or abstention of China, neighbor and friend of Burma.
Despite violence by security forces, protests continued and many used the funerals of those killed on Saturday to show their resistance to the coup.
In Yangon, the country’s largest city, friends and family gathered on Monday to bid farewell to Mya Khaing, 49, who was fatally shot on Saturday. As his coffin was moved to the crematorium, mourners sang a provocative song from an earlier 1988 uprising against military rule.
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“There is no forgiveness for you until the end of the world,” sang the mourners. “We will never forgive what you have done.”
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